Pride Month 2017 looks like it’s going out on a good note. With 393 for, 226 against, and four in abstention, Germany’s Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage!
This post discusses the two deadliest recorded attacks against the queer community in United States history)
What follows is a raw attempt on my part, with no practice at slam poetry.
Yesterday marked 44 years since a devastating fire erupted at The Upstairs Lounge, a popular queer gathering spot in New Orleans, Louisiana. This deliberate arson attack caused the deaths of 32 people and was the deadliest attack on the queer community in the United States until the 2016 shooting massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which saw 49 murdered and more than 50 injured. Every time I think about this deeply, massively horrific act of barbarism, I am brought to tears. I am brought to tears because
32 people died.
32 people who loved, hated, and fucked
32 people with stories of heartbreak, joy, sorrow, contentment, apathy, and compassion
32 people who ate, slept, vacationed, worked, traveled, got drunk, went to church, loved politics, hated politics, and gambled and more
32 people who were siblings and parents, extended family and friends, co-workers and acquaintances, perhaps strangers even
32 people who had hopes and dreams, skills and talents, strengths and weaknesses, character flaws and integrity
32 people were killed.
No. Actually, that’s not right.
32 people were murdered.
Murdered in one of those “god I hope I don’t die this way bc this is unbearable to even imagine” kind of ways. But I can ONLY imagine. They EXPERIENCED it. I truly hope they didn’t suffer and IF they suffered it was for a brief moment. Death by FIRE and STARVED of oxygen and poison SEEPING into your lungs? Is not…is not…is not how one should die.
And when the inferno was out?
And 32 people were dead? Hearts were open. Aid was offered. Condolences were given. Around the world people reached out and shared their candle lit grief. And their solidarity. With the 32 people whose lives were TAKEN in that fearsome. fiery. tragedy. I WISH I could say with ALL of my heart that THAT was what had occurred.
It did not.
I can not and will not. Tell such a tall tale.
There is a tale that I can tell that does not require deceit. And in this deceitless tale that I can tell,
Not 24. Not 12. Not 6. Not 3 hours went by
Before reactions were heard. Before support was offered. Before commiserations were given. Before outrage was shared. Before the “what can I do”‘s and “how can I help”‘s were asked.
And not just Orlando. Not just Florida. Not JUST the United States.
There were lit Candles in the Phillipines.
A rainbow bridge in Australia.
Unity placards in England.
Remembrance in Denmark.
Mourning in Switzerland.
Gathering in South Korea.
Homage in France.
Vigils in Berlin.
And on it went. And on it went.
And so it went around the world. Country to country. People to people. The solidarity and vigils and homages and remembrances and candles were a response. A very human response to a horrific tragedy. A very human response to a horrific tragedy that was vastly different than the one that happened 44 years ago yesterday when:
Silence was heard. Silence so loud and so powerful. Like a Silent Sonic Boom went off. So loud and so powerful was this Sonic Boom that the world was engulfed in silence.
Jokes were made that packed a punch. Oppressive punches so powerful they punched down and punched down and punched down until BAM! The Earth’s core. And then continued to punch down some more.
A fearsome fire overtook a bar. Survivors feared the fire and fought the fire and fled the fire and found that they were fired. From their jobs.
In the aftermath of the Upstairs Lounge, the reaction of New Orleans officials, church leaders, and civilians in the city was unsympathetic. Jokes were indeed made about some of the people killed. Churches refused to allow memorials. Family members of some of the deceased refused to collect the remains of people who up until they died in that fire, were probably family members they cared for. But for some people, finding out that a member of your family is gay is “::gasp:: HOLY FUCKBALLS! Red is black and blue is sky and and nothing makes sense any longer”. Unlike the response to the Pulse massacre last year–a response that included vigils, commiserations, remembrances, homages, and so much more. And from as far away as South Korea and Australia.
But that was not the case in NOLA. Here, it was as if the city and the religious leaders wanted nothing to do with the case. They wanted it swept under the rug. They cared more about the image of their town than finding the killer (and they never found the person, either). For all that the Upstairs Lounge fire was the deadliest attack on our community until last year, far too many people know nothing of it. They know nothing of this horrific attack or the apathetic-at-best response from the city. In what could symbolize the utter lack of concern about the fire, one of the victims, the Reverend Bill Larson, had attempted to escape, but got stuck in the iron bars around one of the windows. People on the street watched in horror as he burned alive. And the city left his body there for days. Heartless as fuck. The fact that no killer was found (despite one suspect, a gay man who had been kicked out of the bar earlier and apparently threatened retribution; the man took his own life the following year) also points to the lack of care on display by the city.
The Upstairs Lounge fire is part of USAmerican queer history. It was a devastating attack and its aftermath served as a reminder that we were viewed as subhuman deviants for whom care and compassion was in short supply. In the years since the fire, care and compassion have been found in some cases, and cultivated in other, such that the Pulse attack engendered compassion in people around the globe. Please take a few minutes to read the full details of the Upstairs Lounge fire or familiarize yourself with the names of the deceased as well as the survivors. We matter. Contrary to what NOLA officials and church officials said at the time, their lives mattered. Just as our lives matter today. We are part of the narrative of this country. Both in life and in death. We expect society as a whole to recognize that our lives matter and that we deserve liberation and equality. If we expect that in society, should we not also expect that in ourselves?
- Joseph Henry (Joe) Adams, 51, comptroller, Sidney Espinache’s lover
- Reginald Eugene (Reggie) Adams Jr., 24, salesman
- Guy David Owen Anderson, 41, researcher, visitor from Illinois
- Joseph William (Bill) Bailey, 29, waiter, Clarence McCloskey’s lover
- Luther Thomas Boggs, 47, computer programmer, died in hospital
- Louis Horace Broussard, 26, barber, Mitch Mitchell’s lover
- Hurbert Dean (Hugh) Cooley, 32, lounge bartender
- Donald Walter Dunbar, 21, carpet cleaner
- Adam Roland Fontenot, 32, Buddy Rasmussen’s lover
- David Stuart Gary, 22, lounge pianist
- Horace Winslow (Skip) Getchell, 35, freight dispatcher
- John Thomas Golding Sr., 49, various careers, father
- Gerald Hoyt Gordon, 37, shipping clerk
- Glenn Richard (Dick) Green, 32, shipping clerk
- James Walls (Jim) Hambrick, 45, salesman, died in hospital
- Kenneth Paul Harrington, 48, federal lab technician
- Rev. William Ros (Bill) Larson, 47, MCC pastor
- Ferris Jerome LeBlanc, 50, hair dresser
- Robert Keith (Bobby) Lumpkin, 29, switchman
- Leon Richard Maples, 32, auto mechanic, father
- George Steven (Bud) Matyi, 27, musician
- Clarence Joseph McCloskey Jr., 48, sales manager, father, Bill Bailey’s lover
- Duane George (Mitch) Mitchell, 31, salesman, assistant MCC pastor, Horace Broussard’s lover
- Larry Dean Stratton, 25, died in hospital
- Eddie Hosea Warren, 24, cook, father
- James Curtis Warren, 26, carpenter
- Willie Inez Whatley Warren, 59, unemployed, their mother
- Dr. Perry Lane Waters Jr., 41, Jefferson Parish dentist whose x-rays identified several victims
- Douglas Maxwell Williams Jr., 20, truck driver
in addition to three unidentified white males.
- Theo Ancelet
- Jessie Baker, 28, beautician
- Philip Byrd, 40s, hospitalized for injuries
- J. C. Carrier
- Courtney Craighead, 30s
- Richard Robert (Mother) Cross, 29, salesman, Dean Morris’ lover
- Frank Dean, 34
- Jimmy Demoll Jr., hospitalized for injuries
- Francis Dufrene, 21, hospitalized for injuries
- Roger Dale Dunn, 26, hospitalized for injuries
- Sidney Espinache, 50, Joe Adams’ lover, hospitalized for injuries
- Richard Frank (Rick) Everett, 35, computer technician
- Frank Gaalema, 29, display freelancher
- Edward B. (Eddie) Gillis, 52, hospitalized for injuries
- Jean Cory Gosnell, 37, realtor, mother, hospitalized for injuries
- James Larson
- Adolph Medina, 32, wig saloon manager, hospitalized for injuries
- Albert Harold (Uncle Al) Monroe, 68
- Dean Morris, 37, Rick Cross’ lover
- Jim Peterson, 31
- Robert Thomas Price, 19, various jobs
- Lindy Laurell (Rusty) Quinton, 25, welder, hospitalized for injuries
- Douglas (Buddy) Rasmussen, 32, bartender
- Robert (Ronnie) Rosenthal
- Michael Wayne Scarborough, 27, steel worker, Glenn Green’s lover, hospitalized for injuries
- Fred Scharohway, 22, Earl Thomas’ lover, hospitalized for injuries
- Don Sherry
- Eugene Earl Thomas 42, Fred Scharohway’s lover, hospitalized for injuries
- I. R. (Bob) Vann, hospitalized for injuries
- Stephen Whittaker
- Peter — , bank clerk
- Harry —
Yesterday, I talked about my desire to develop a connection to queer heritage, culture, and history in the United States. There are so many people that have contributed to the struggle for the rights that I and millions of others currently enjoy. There are also those people who helped shape our culture and in some cases, help steer the course of US history. Beyond that, there are the places where queers gathered and loved, lived and died, and where they endured great trials and enjoyed amazing successes. Queer history in the US is more than facing down mob violence, defying “the man”, or pushing back against restrictive and prescriptive social norms regarding gender or sexuality. It is also about the quest for love and acceptance (internally and externally) in a harsh and uncaring world, as well as the formation and dissolution of the ties that bind us (whether socially, religiously, or politically). One incredibly important aspect of our history is the recognition among those in our community (and later, by society at large) that the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ is our right as well; that our lives have value and that we are an important part of the fabric of this country.
I suspect it is that recognition–that we exist, that our lives matter, that we have value, that we are an essential part of the narrative of United States history–that played a role in the creation by the National Park Service of a multi-part (32 to be exact), peer-reviewed theme study into queer history. Megan Springate, the prime consultant for and editor of the LGBTQ theme study describes it thusly: Continue reading “Important Read! A theme study of LGBTQ history in the U.S.”
There are some things that In My Opinion just don’t pair well together.
The first thing that springs to my mind is pineapple on pizza. When I was 16, I was hired on at a pizza buffet restaurant (my first job). One of the more popular pizzas was a simple ham and pineapple pizza (some places call this a Hawaiian Pizza). Nope. None for me then. None for me now. I’m not interested in shaming anyone for their food choices. All I have to say is that I find pineapple to be deeply unappealing in smell, taste, and texture…and I like pizza. So I’m not going to marry the two of them, bc to me, that’s not a marriage made in heaven.
Another thing I’ve found I don’t like together–water, juice, or soda with dessert. Now, I’m a finicky person when it comes to desserts. I like ’em simple. I don’t eat creme brulee, hate pies (yes, I’ve heard all the jokes on that one) and cobblers, and the texture of cheesecake just does not work for me at all. I like cakes, brownies, and cookies (the occasional bread pudding is ok, but the portion size on most I’ve seen is ginormous and the sweetness level is often off the charts). These are my go-to desserts. But I can only drink them with milk. I mean, not literally. If I need something to drink, and there’s no milk, I’ll drink water or juice. Anything other than milk though, just doesn’t taste right.
There are some pairings that not only seem like a horrible fit on paper, but just make me shake my head in profound befuddlement. I’m speaking here of LGBT Republicans. That should be an oxymoron. You’d think they wouldn’t exist, right? After all, the Republican Party has, for decades, opposed efforts to improve the quality of life for QUILTBAG folks. They fought tooth and nail to prevent same-sex marriage from being legalized. They’ve supported so-called conversion therapy, which is a fancy way of saying “torturing kids into being not gay”. They’ve continually made the reality challenged assertions that gay people cannot be parents and held that children raised by gay people are at a disadvantage (in point of fact, aside from individual physiological issues, we can indeed have children and study after study has found children of same-sex couples are not at a disadvantage). Though much of the harsh rhetoric from the GOP about QUILTBAG folks has become muted over the years, there are still Republicans who make comparisons between gay people and pedophiles (as if there’s a connection between sexuality and pedophilia). Then there are the bathroom bills that states across the nation have considered in the last few years. 16 states have considered such legislation and 15 states have bills pending in legislature. These bills would restrict access to multi-user sex-segregated facilities on the basis of gender as determined at birth. Supporters argue legal protections are needed to prevent predatorial men from wearing women’s clothing and assaulting or molesting girls and women in bathrooms. Such bills are an incredible insult to transgender women. They are not predators. They are women who were assigned the incorrect gender at birth. They are using the bathrooms for the same reason cis women use restrooms. Additionally, there are already laws on the books that criminalize molestation and assault, making these bathroom bills all about one thing: discriminating against transgender women and men.
And all of that? ↑ ↑
Barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the disdain, contempt, and outright hate that the Republican Party has exhibited towards queer people over the last few decades. From discriminatory bathroom bills to preventing gay people from adopting children, the Republican Party has long been among the loudest opponents of queer rights. So yeah, it’s somewhat confounding to me that transgender, lesbian, gay, or bisexual Republicans exist.
On an intellectual level, I know they do. I accept that human brains being what they are, indoctrination into political parties occurring the way it does (often at a young age, in a similar way to indoctrination into religion–i.e. before we develop strong critical thinking skills), and who knows how many cognitive biases and shortcuts converge in queer Republicans. Emotionally, however, it not only boggles my mind, it’s downright insulting. I find insult in the fact that these people are donating time, money, energy, and other resources into aiding a political party that wants to [at best] keep queers as second class citizens. They don’t want us to have rights like being able to marry, adopt kids, own property, or be free from discrimination in public institutions. They don’t want us in scouting organizations or in positions of religious power. They don’t want to see us doing something as innocuous as holding hands in public. In fact, they don’t need to literally say it for it to be true: the Republican Party does not want us to exist.
That fact is lost upon the Gays For Trump, a group of whiny assholes who are mad that Charlotte Pride has denied them entry into the Pride Parade:
Warning: This post may offend some readers bc I’m going to talk about that most dreaded of words: P R I V I L E G E. While there are many types of privilege and multiple social groups that benefit from the concept, all too often, I hear the whines of white folks who deny the existence of White Privilege. Denial to the point of Losing. Their. Shit. The way some of them (please note the wording for you #notallwhitz people) react to that word, you’d think speaking it conjured a demonic entity that spews vomit, does 360º head spins, masturbates with a cross, and wants to spend eternity joined in unholy matrimony by their side. Common refrains of “I’m not privileged. I’ve had a hard life” or “I grew up poor, how can you say I have privilege” can be heard by these poor beleaguered souls doomed to an eternity of matrimonial bliss by the side of a demon from the nether regions of hell. But really, I need you folks to calm down. Stop being so damned testerical. Breathe. Engage those logical thought processes that you are so fond of proclaiming you possess and listen. Yes, it’s that time again. That time when you sit down, shut up, and listen. I’m going to attempt for the umpteen thousandth time to explain the concept of privilege. I have no idea why bc to be honest, bc some of you nincomfucks are *still* not going to get it. But here goes:
When I awoke on June 12, I reached for my cellphone as I always do upon waking, and saw a group message from my sister to our parents and myself. The message was about the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. She was letting us know that she was safe. See, my sister and my parents all live in Orlando. In fact, my sister lives with a roommate just a few miles from Pulse. Moreover, she’s friends with many people in the queer community down there, and has been to that club before. I was deeply, deeply heartened to know that she wasn’t among the victims of that horrific tragedy (nor was her roommate, who actually considered going there that night.Normally when I wake in the morning, I need about half an hour to become alert and “with it”. Not on that day. The news immediately rocked me out of my post-sleep slump. I searched around for more information on the shooting and found that 20 people were listed dead with many more injured. A few hours later, that number shot up to 50, though it was later learned that one of the people listed among the dead was actually alive. Wielding a semi-automatic pistol and an AR-15 rifle (both quick-reloading weapons) that he was able to buy with ease roughly a week before his attack, Mateen ruthlessly, maliciously, destroyed dozens upon dozens of LGBTQIA lives. His actions also irrevocably altered the lives of those victims who survived, some of whom are still fighting to stay alive. The act of terror also had a ripple effect, extending outward from Orlando to the rest of the state and beyond. How could it not? It felt like….it WAS an act of terror upon a community constantly faced with an oppressive heteronormative, cisnormative society that says YOUR LIVES DON’T MATTER. Like many, I was struck by the horror of that day. I was affected as were so many others. I do not pretend to have been victimized like those that died, or the survivors. But as a member of the LGBTQIA community, the events of that night did have an effect upon me. The following is less a blog post and more of an attempt to get my thoughts out in something resembling a coherent form.